Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sapphire and Steel (TV)

Sapphire and Steel
Created and written by
Peter J. Hammond
Starring David McCallum, Joanna Lumley
IMDB Entry

Sometimes you get the wrong impression of a TV series that you heard of but never saw. When I first heard of the UK series Sapphire and Steel, I got the impression it was some sort of private detective show where the stars solved mundane crimes. Having seen it, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) are two mysterious beings that appear at places where mysterious things are happening, usually involving ghosts. Their origins were never explained, other than their job is to fix anomalies in times. Sapphire has some ability to control time, and Steel can kill the creatures by lowering his body temperature to near absolute zero.  They can also communicate telepathically. It's implied that there are other people carrying out other missions.

The show has a Doctor Who feel to it -- low budget, cheap special effects -- and was conceived to rival the Doctor in its adventures, but didn't quite work as well, possibly due to a lack of humor of the characters. Steel is cold and dismissive of the people they meet. Sapphire is more considerate and more willing to listen to see if it includes any clues to what's happening.

There were six serials of the show, ranging from 4-8 episodes each. The pacing was very slow, but it seemed to work as a way to ratchet up the tension. Another problem was the availability of the main actors, who had thriving careers that led to availability issues. Further, issues with the production company management also worked against it. The final series was basically just burned off.

The show was revived as a series of audio dramas at Big Finish with Susanna Harker and David Warner. 

The show never seemed to have a regular run in the US, probably because of the lack of episodes. But it is an interesting attempt at a science fiction/fantasy series.

Sunday, January 8, 2023




Written and Directed by
Jacques Tati
Starring Jacques Tati, Maria Kimberly, Marcel Fraval 
IMDB Entry

Readers of this blog may have noticed my liking for Jacques Tati (especially likely). I decided to take the time to watch his final film Trafic, again. I remember being disappointed, but maybe a rewatch would change my mind.

The story is simple.  M. Hulot (Tati, of course) is a designer of a new type of camper car, which he plans to unveil at the Amsterdam auto show. It's loaded on the truck for the journey, with a driver (Marcel Fraval) driving. Maria, a publicist for the auto company (Maria Kimberly) is also involved in getting the car to be displayed.

The movie has the thinnest of plots -- which is typical of Tati. He always depended on gags to carry the story, and a specific type of gag where it is the reactions of the characters that are the basis of humor. For instance, when there is the inevitable car crash, the section -- one of the best in the film -- shows a strangely calm reaction as they gather up the part that had ended up on the side of the road and the edge of the woods.

There's also an amusing sequence where Hulot shows the features of the camper car, where each bit had a double duty. It's right out of some of Buster Keaton's work.*

Maria is the catalyst for events. She's American and a master of disregarding traffic laws, leading to the situations that make Hulot's trip a frustrating one. She got the role because her millionaire lover was going to finance the film. Tati had lost a fortune in on his previous film, Playtime, and had troubles getting financing, so he jumped at the chance. Kimberly was a model in the US and acquits herself well.

Another nice technique is that the film doesn't use subtitles. Dialog -- not a lot of it -- switches from one language to another, so if you don't know the word, someone will repeat it in another. This sounds clunky, but it comes across as perfectly natural.

Admittedly, the film doesn't reach the heights of Tati's best, but even this, his least successful film, you can see the signs of his comic genius.

*Tati was a big fan of Keaton.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Jour de Fete

Jour de Fete
Written, Directed, and Starring
Jacques Tati
IMDB Entry

I've mentioned before that I consider Jacques Tati as one of the great film comedians, and the last one to work in essentially silent cinema. His output was small -- five full-length films in twenty-two years -- but it was all classic. And it started out with Jour de Fete*.

It's set in a small farming town in France. A tractor arrives, bringing a merry-go-round and other parts of a small fair -- some games, a small theater, and other attractions that everyone in the village comes by to take part in.  The town's postman, Francois (Jacques Tati) is conscientious and hardworking, but a bit clumsy and simple and the butt of jokes. When he sees a satirical movie about postmen in America, he vows to take up their methods.

Francois is an proto-Hulot, Tati's great comic creation. In this case, he even speaks to advance the plot.** The gags are well constructed -- Keatonesque in his
use of objects behaving badly. Most of it is plotless -- just vignettes about the people who are at the fair. The part about the postmen doesn't show up until around 45 minutes in. That is the sequence that is usually listed as the plot of the movie, and it is impressive -- a series of sight gags and Francois delivers the mail. The movie also showed the main theme that runs through Tati's work -- a wariness about the new.

Tati is, as always, brilliant. Francois is an early version of M. Hulot, though for this he sports a moustache.  I suspect Tati didn't keep it so that you could see his entire face.

The film was originally shot both in color and black and white. The color process used worked poorly, so it was released as a black and white film, though a color version was recreated by his daughter in 1995. It was an immediate success and started Tati's career.

*Festival Day in French.

**Hulot was not a completely silent character, but he was a man of few words and got most of his points across with gestures.